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December 20, 2008

Charter Schools and Card Check

In early 2007, charter school supporters in New York were battling the education establishment to lift the cap on charter schools.  At the time, despite frequently arguing that charter schools would never be big enough to matter, the establishment was fighting to maintain a limit on charter school growth.  Throughout the debate, unions noted that they would be willing to lift the cap in exchange for "card check".  Many of us responded predictably: "What the hell is 'card check'?" 

"Card check" is a form of union certificaction in which, instead of a secret ballot vote, a union simply has to get a majority of employees to sign a card saying that they want a union.  Despite the secret ballot in the current system, union officials complain that management harasses employees to vote against unionization.  Skeptics (like me) believe that:

1. Union leaders don't like the fact that it is difficult to unionize organizations when the employees are given the right to a secret ballot vote.

2. With the "card check" system, union harassment will be much more of an issue than management harassment ever was.

During the cap battle, charter operators and supporters vehemently opposed "card check" and, ultimately, were successful in getting the cap lifted without it.

Fast forward to 2008, when most of these New York charter operators and supporters were firmly in the Obama camp.  Obama, though, was one of the original cosponsors for national "card check" legislation under the euphemistic title "the Employee Free Choice Act".  The unions view this act as their number one priority.  Unfortunately, most Americans have little to no idea what this legislation means.  (Ask a friend to explain "card check".)  Former Democratic presidential nominee Senator George McGovern felt strongly enough about the right of working Americans to a secret-ballot election to break with his party and write a powerful editorial along with a YouTube video:

Now that Obama has been elected, one of the most interesting questions is the fate of "card check" legislation.  Conventional wisdom amongst Democratic charter school supporters is that Obama knows it is a bad idea but had to support it (like virtually all Democratic politicians) to get elected.  But now what?  An excellent article on CNN's website outlines Obama's dilemma. 

In the end, charter supporters may have fought off "card check" for a couple of hundred schools in New York while indirectly supporting "card check" for the entire country just two years later. 



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